Japanese Vocabulary: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the more subtle meanings and uses of common Japanese words

Using

There are some significant challenges for English speakers learning Japanese, including the entirely different alphabet, the difference in how words are stressed when spoken, and the different conjugations of common verbs. 

For those moving on from Japanese 101, there are still many questions about word usage and meanings of common and less-than-common words. In order to become more proficient in speaking and reading Japanese, here are some frequently asked questions about various words and their proper usage.

 

What Does "Nante" Mean?

Nante (なんて) can be used in the following situations.

To express an exclamation beginning with "how" or "what."

Nante kireina hana nan darou. 
なんてきれいな花なんだろう。
How beautiful the flower is!
Nante ii hito nan deshou.
なんていい人なんでしょう。
What a nice person she is!

Nanto (なんと) can be replaced with nante in the above cases.

To mean "such things" or "and so on" in a sentence structure. 

Yuurei nante inai yo!
幽霊なんていないよ。
There are no such things as ghosts!
Ken ga sonna koto o suru nante shinjirarenai.
健がそんなことするなんて
信じられない。
I can't believe that 
Ken does such a thing. 
Yuki o okorasetari nante 
shinakatta darou ne.

雪を怒らせたりなんて
しなかっただろうね。
I hope you didn't offend Yuki 
or anything like that.

Nado (など)can be replaced with nante in the above cases.

 

How is the Word "Chotto" Used?

Chotto (ちょっと) can be used in several different situations.

It can mean a little, a bit, or a small amount.

Yuki ga chotto furimashita.
雪がちょっと降りました。
It snowed a little.
Kono tokei wa chotto takai desu ne. 
この時計はちょっと高いですね。
This watch is a little expensive, isn't it?

 

It can mean "a moment" or an indeterminate amount of time.

Chotto omachi kudasai.  
ちょっとお待ちください。
Wait a moment, please.
Nihon ni chotto sunde imashita. 
日本にちょっと住んでいました。
I have lived in Japan for a while.

 

It can also be used as an exclamation to convey urgency.
 

Chotto! wasuremono! (informal) 
ちょっと。 忘れ物。
Hey! You left behind this.

 

Chotto is also a kind of linguistic softener, equivalent to one of the uses of the word "just" in English.

Chotto mite mo ii desu ka. 
ちょっと見てもいいですか。
Can I just look?
Chotto sore o totte kudasai. 
ちょっとそれを取ってください。
Could you just pass me that?

 

And finally chotto may be used to avoid direct criticism in a reply. 

Kono kutsu dou omou.
Un, chotto ne ...

この靴どう思う。
うん、ちょっとね ...
What do you think about these shoes?
Hmm, it's a little ...

In this case chotto is said quite slowly with a falling intonation. This is a very convenient expression as it is used when people want to turn someone down or negate something without being direct or unkind.

 

What is the Difference Between "Goro" and "Gurai"?

A. Both goro (ごろ) and gurai (ぐらい)are used to express approximation. However, goro is only used for a specific point in time to mean approximately.

Sanji goro uchi ni kaerimasu.
三時ごろうちに帰ります。
I will come home around three o'clock.
Rainen no sangatsu goro 
nihon ni ikimasu. 

来年の三月ごろ日本に行きます。
I am going to Japan 
around March next year.

 

Gurai (ぐらい) is used for an approximate time period or quantity.

Ichi-jikan gurai machimashita.
一時間ぐらい待ちました。
I waited for about an hour.
Eki made go-fun gurai desu.
駅まで五分ぐらいです。
It takes about five minutes 
to get to the station.
Kono kutsu wa nisen en gurai deshita.
この靴は二千円ぐらいでした。
These shoes were about 2,000 yen.
Hon ga gojussatsu gurai arimasu.
本が五十冊ぐらいあります。
There are about 50 books.
Ano ko wa go-sai gurai deshou.
あの子は五歳ぐらいでしょう。
That child is probably 
about five years old.

 

Gurai  can be replaced with hodo ほど) or yaku (約 though yaku comes before the quantity. Examples:

Sanjuupun hodo hirune o shimashita.
三十分ほど昼寝をしました。
I had a nap for about 30 minutes.
Yaku gosen-nin no kanshuu desu. 
約五千人の観衆です。
There are about 5,000 in the audience.

 

What is the Difference Between "Kara" and "Node"?

The conjunctions kara (から) and node (ので)both express reason or cause. While kara is used for reason or cause of a speaker's volition, opinion and so on, node is for existing (existed) action or situation.

Kino wa samukatta node 
uchi ni imashita.

昨日は寒かったのでうちにいました。
Since it was cold, I stayed home.
Atama ga itakatta node 
gakkou o yasunda.

頭が痛かったので学校を休んだ。
Since I had a headache, 
I didn't go to school.
Totemo shizukadatta node 
yoku nemuremashita.

とても静かだったのでよく眠れました。
Since it was very quiet, 
I could sleep well.
Yoku benkyou shita node 
shiken ni goukaku shita.

よく勉強したので試験に合格した。
Since I studied hard, 
I passed the examination. 

 

Sentences expressing personal judgment such as speculation, suggestion, intention, request, opinion, volition, invitation, and so forth would use kara.

Kono kawa wa kitanai kara
tabun sakana wa inai deshou.

この川は汚いから
たぶん魚はいないでしょう。
Since this river is polluted, 
there is probably no fish.
Mou osoi kara hayaku nenasai.
もう遅いから早く寝なさい。
Go to bed, since it is getting late.
Kono hon wa totemo omoshiroi 
kara yonda hou ga ii.

この本はとても面白いから
読んだほうがいい。
This book is very interesting, 
so you'd better to read it.
Kono kuruma wa furui kara
atarashi kuruma ga hoshii desu.

この車は古いから
新しい車が欲しいです。
This car is old, so I want a new car.
Samui kara mado o shimete kudasai.
寒いから窓を閉めてください。
It is cold, so please close the window.

 

While kara focuses more on the reason, node focuses more on the resulting effect. This is why the kara clause is used independently more often than node.

Doushite okureta no.
Densha ni nori okureta kara.

どうして遅れたの。
電車に乗り遅れたから。
Why were you late?
Because I missed the train.

 

Kara can be immediately followed by "desu (~です).

Atama ga itakatta kara desu.
頭が痛かったからです。
Because I had a headache.
Atama ga itakatta node desu.
頭が痛かったのでです。
Wrong

 

What is the Difference Between "Ji" and "Zu"?

Both hiragana and katakana have two ways of writing ji and zu. Although their sounds are same in either writing, じ and ず are used most of the time. In a few rare cases they are written ぢ and づ.

In a compound word, the second part of the word often changes the sound. If the second part of word begins with "chi (ち)" or "tsu (つ)," and it changes the sound to ji or zu, it is written ぢ or づ.
 

ko (small) + tsutsumi (wrapping)kozutsumi (package)
こづつみ
ta (hand) + tsuna (rope)tazuna (reins)
たづな
hana (nose) + chi (blood)hanaji (bloody nose)
はなぢ

 

When ji follows chi, or zu follows tsu in a word, it is written ぢ or づ.
 

chijimu
ちぢむ
to shrink
tsuzuku
つづく
to continue

 

 

 

What is the Difference Between "Masu" and "te imasu"?

The suffix "masu (~ます)" is the present tense of a verb. It is used in formal situations.

Hon o yomimasu.
本を読みます。
I read a book.
Ongaku o kikimasu.
音楽を聞きます。
I listen music.

When "imasu (~います)" follows the "te form" of a verb, it describes progressive, habitual or a condition. 

Progressive indicates that an action is ongoing. It is translated as the "ing" of English verbs. 

Denwa o shite imasu.
電話をしています。
I am making a phone call.
Shigoto o sagashite imasu.
仕事を探しています。
I am looking for a job.

 

Habitual indicates repeated actions or constant states. 

Eigo o oshiete imasu.
英語を教えています。
I teach English.
Nihon ni sunde imasu.
日本に住んでいます。
I live in Japan.

 

In these instances it describes a condition, situation or the result of an action.

Kekkon shite imasu.
結婚しています。
I am married.
Megane o kakete imasu.
めがねをかけています。
I wear glasses.
Mado ga shimatte imasu.
窓が閉まっています。
The window is closed.